How to apply for divorce in the UK?

If you believe your marriage has broken down to the point of separation, understanding the process through which a divorce can be completed is imperative. Divorce is often considered an overwhelming and complicated process. Although this depends on the state of mind of each partner, understanding the steps necessary to complete this legal unbinding is critical.  

How to apply for divorce in the UK?

 Eligibility for divorce

To be eligible for a divorce in England or Wales, you must have been married for over a year and have a marriage legally recognised by the UK. Same-sex marriages are, of course, considered eligible. 

Under any circumstances, the UK must be your permanent home or the permanent home of your spouse. If you are still within the first year of your marriage, you can apply for an annulment or a legal separation as a means to dissolve your partnership. 

 Grounds for divorce

To apply for divorce, you must prove that one of five (or more) essential facts are accurate. These are considered solid grounds that your marriage cannot be saved. 


 If your partner has committed sexual intercourse with someone outside of your marriage, this is solid grounds for divorce. However, there is a stipulation in place which states that if you lived with your partner for six consecutive months after finding out they had been unfaithful, this rule no longer applies. 

Unreasonable behaviour

Divorce is acceptable to argue because your partner has behaved in such a way you cannot be expected to live with them, such as physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, refusal to contribute towards shared living expenses, or severe mental health without the grounds for getting medical assistance. 


If your partner has left you for at least two years, you have grounds for divorce. 


You can apply for a divorce if you have been separated for at least two years. However, both partners must agree in writing that this has been the state of your marriage.

Separation for five years

After five years of separation, despite any disagreement, one partner can apply for divorce uncontested.

Before you apply for divorce

Make sure you work out with your partner specific arrangements to look after any children if possible. Dividing your assets (i.e. money and property) in a way that both parties deem acceptable also can significantly relieve the stress of any divorce proceedings. For this, a mediator is often helpful.  

 Divorce: The application steps 

Once you file a divorce petition, the court will send a petition to your partner. If your partner files a response of acknowledgement of service back to the court in due time, the court then sends a copy of this acknowledgement to the original sender. If the respondent initially fails to respond to the acknowledgement of service, however, the original petitioner must arrange to have the documents personally served. Both parties must be aware of the desire for divorce on legal grounds.  

Once the petitioner receives this acknowledgement, they must submit a decree nisi and provide a statement of support for the divorce. A district judge then considers the petition. If the grounds for divorce are readily accepted, the petition gets listed in the judge’s list for pronouncement of decree nisi. 

 decree nisi(the first degree) essentially states that the court supports the grounds for divorce provided. This is a critical step in the divorce process, as it legitimises the process legally. Once this step is completed and administered, a final decree can be applied for six weeks and one day after.

 The final step in the divorce process is the decree absolute application. This must be applied for at least six weeks and one day after the decree nisi but within four and a half months. 

Here, the court will check that the appropriate time limits have been met and that there are no other reasons not to grant the divorce legally.

The degree absolute will be granted within 24 hours if applied for online through, and within ten days if applied for by post. 

 Once the decree absolute is deemed successfully, you are legally separated by law. 

 Court fees and divorce costs

 It is important to note that court fees for divorce in the UK and Wales are currently set at £550. This is payable at the start of the divorce application. If you’ve paid the fee but believe your partner should be held liable for a portion or all of the fee, you can indicate so on a form that would lead to the court asking your partner to pay for these expenses. 

Additionally, if you are on a low-income salary or receive certain benefits, you may be exempt from these fees. To have a preliminary idea of any reductions in court fees you may be entitled to, contact a divorce lawyer for a free initial consultation.

Key Takeaways 

Solicitor fees can be significantly more costly, which is why mediation and pre-agreed upon terms are suggested as lower-cost alternatives. Some helpful tips and tricks for potentially lowering your legal fees can also be found here.

Contact one of our divorce solicitors or family lawyers who have experience in helping you resolve your family issues quickly.

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